Morocco's King Mohammed (R) prepares to address the nation in Rabat, June 17, 2011. — Photo by Reuters

PARIS: Moroccan King Mohammed VI's proposed new constitution would do little to change the status quo, falling short of expectations raised during the heady early days of the Arab Spring, analysts say.

“In terms of the distribution and architecture of power, this constitution is still far from democratic,” said political scientist Mohamed Madani of Mohammed V University in Rabat.

The touted new constitutional monarchy is “drowned” amid a raft of qualifiers and not backed up by the text, Madani said.

Under the draft constitution unveiled by the king on Friday, he would remain head of state and the military and still appoint ambassadors and diplomats, while retaining the right to name top officials of unspecified “strategic” administrations.

In the highly anticipated national address promised back in March, Mohammed VI offered a text that he said would “consolidate the pillars of a constitutional, democratic, parliamentary and social monarchy.”

Under the new basic law, to be put to a referendum on July 1, the king would no longer designate the prime minister, who would henceforth be named by the winning party in elections.

The 47-year-old monarch, who took over the Arab world's longest-serving dynasty in 1999, currently holds virtually all power in the Muslim north African country, and he is also its top religious authority as the Commander of the Faithful.

“The king keeps all his prerogatives,” said Khadija Mohsen-Finan, a researcher at the University of Paris who specialises in the Maghreb. “He is the guarantor of all of this new equilibrium. That is how we are not in a parliamentary monarchy.”

Madani too argued that the king's proposals were mainly cosmetic, noting that the text had grown from 108 to 180 articles, and from a legal text to a “programme constitution” — but one that remains “royal.”

“The king still smothers the political scene with his power,” agreed historian Pierre Vermeren, author of “Mohammed VI's Morocco: The Unfinished Transition.”

Measures such as the recognition of the minority Berber language Tamazight as an official language have “a very strong symbolic import (but) don't change much in practice,” he said.

And deleting the article on the king's religious power is no more than a “ruse,” he added.

“You remove the symbol of this article, but keep the essence: the title of Commander of the Faithful, which makes the king the sole religious authority of the country,” Vermeren said.

“By the yardstick of the expectations raised by the Arab revolutions, the advances are very weak,” said Mohsen-Finan.

But, she noted: “In Morocco, the expectation is of change, not a rejection of the monarchy. People reproach the king for part of his entourage. There's a problem of corruption, but not a problem of general governance like in Tunisia or Egypt.”

When the king addressed the nation in March, it was his first speech since the uprisings that toppled the autocratic rulers of Tunisia and Egypt and came less than a month after the protests erupted in Morocco for more social justice and limits on royal powers.

The youth-based February 20 Movement, rejecting the king's proposals, called for nationwide demonstrations on Sunday. While some 10,000 turned out in the economic capital Casablanca, protests were far smaller in other cities.

The analysts said events in the Arab world have altered the context in the king's favour since his speech in March.

“There is no more urgency for the king. (Libyan leader Moamer) Qadhafi is still there, war is taking hold in Syria and Yemen,” Vermeren said, adding: “After the attack of Marrakesh (in April), the king is a bulwark of stability against the chaos that is stalking some Arab countries.”

The Marrakesh bombing, blamed on religious extremists, claimed 17 lives.

But Vermeren said Mohammed “could have gone farther,” by speaking about social issues and the immediate expectations of young people. The announcement of a referendum on July 1 “means that there will be practically no campaign” for the draft — which is “not an encouraging sign,” he said.

Since Mohammed VI took the throne in 1999 at the age of 35, he has sought to pursue the open politics initiated at the end of his father Hassan II's reign, which was tainted by a legacy of repression.

But corruption still permeates all levels of government.



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